“But he’s a long-time member and deserves respect.”
As a young pastor, I wasn’t comfortable with this counsel. The person in question was mean. I mean, like, mean as a snake. He wouldn’t get within a few feet of me and not hurl some insult at me about how much he couldn’t stand the music, the worship team, the drums, the volume, my hairstyle, how I raised my hands during worship, my excitement, or my age.
When speaking to my senior pastor to learn how to deal with this man, the counsel was to let it go and say nothing. While my senior pastor agreed this man should not be acting this way, the following justification was given: “but he’s a long-time member and deserves respect.”
In other words, I was told he’d been around long enough to earn the right to complain. My job was to simply take it.
Only after a few years did I realize what a horrible thing we were teaching that man.
The Apostle Paul was also trying to help young Timothy who was in some tight spots. Giving him some perspective, Paul writes under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration in 2 Timothy 3:1-5:
1 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.2 Timothy 3:1-5
New International Version
When 21st century Westerners read a passage of Scripture like this one, it seems too harsh and “judgmental”. Mainly because our culture attempts to avoid “offending” someone at (nearly) all costs. To write things like this would be a faux pas in our culture.
Jesus said, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Others have noted, “but first it will make you mad.”
It’s certainly true in my life: truth will make you mad if you’re on the wrong side of it. But it doesn’t cease to be true just because it makes us angry. It doesn’t cease to be true just because it hurts our feelings. If it’s true, it’s true.
Because our culture is so prone to draw offense at what I just wrote, let me quickly add: that doesn’t mean we’re jerks about it. Scripture addresses “truthing” in love, too (Ephesians 4:15).
The Apostle Paul is telling young Pastor Timothy the truth about the heretics plaguing the Ephesian congregations. Look carefully at the characteristics of those in the grip of sin:
Lovers of themselves and lovers of money
Boastful and proud
Abusive and disobedient to their parents
Ungrateful and unholy
Without love and unforgiving
Slanderous and without self-control
Brutal and not lovers of the good
Treacherous and rash
Conceited and lovers of pleasure (rather than lovers of God)
Having a form of godliness but denying its power
All of these sinful behaviors stem from one thing: love of ourselves. There is a gravitational pull in the life of an unredeemed person to the black hole of their own self-centeredness. Their universe revolves around them and they’d do anything to ensure it stays that way.
They think more of themselves than anyone else. But as I once heard a pastor say, “We’re not called to think less of ourselves, we’re called to think of ourselves less.”
Paul’s summary to all of this is simply “have nothing to do with such people” (verse 5). Here’s another good example of how we must interpret the Bible on its terms and not yank something out of context.
Some “Christians” have used this verse to justify shunning. And while I readily admit, there is a Biblical model for Church discipline—including removing someone from the fellowship, Paul isn’t telling Timothy to never speak to them again.
After all, Paul just told him earlier to be kind to them (2 Timothy 2:25-26). Paul is advocating what all Christians should do: draw a separation in spirit from Christians and non-Christians.
Our mission is to make disciples out of them and we’re not going to do that by shunning them. At the same time, our spiritual friendships do not need to be with those who are still rebellious against the Lord.
Is that offensive to modern ears? Maybe. Is it the truth? Yes. Will it set not only us, but other people, free? Certainly.
Are we helping people by making them think there is a point they’ve earned the right to be self-centered, argumentative, and cruel?
Are we helping people by letting them act this way while also declaring Jesus as Lord?
Are we helping the witness of the Church by being afraid to offend the self-centered among us Christians?
Are we helping make disciples by pretending the people like Paul described are “great Christians”?
I’m fairly confident the Scriptural answer is “no”.